Oswego study on fear, anger earns support

imageOngoing work by a professor and a student at SUNY Oswego on the strategic role of a basic emotion will expand under a new $92,200 federal grant beginning in January.

Dr. Craig DeLancey, an assistant professor of philosophy and cognitive science, and John Callan, a junior majoring in computer science and cognitive science, received a campus Challenge Grant last spring for their project to use simulations to test a series of hypotheses about the nature of the social and economic role of anger.

Now the Army Research Institute’s Office of Basic Research has awarded DeLancey a year-long grant to hire an additional student and expand the study to, among other things, include the role of fear. “This is a very extensive extension of that project,” DeLancey said.

Emotions like anger and fear often decisively determine how a person or a group behaves, DeLancey explained in his proposal, but predicting their role in varying scenarios has proven difficult. Standard economic and game-theory models often fail to reflect actual behavior, he said, and the subject is too complex to study through experiments with animal or human subjects.

“It’s really hard to experiment with emotions,” he said. “Simulation is one of the few ways to get some traction.”

With Callan as his computer programmer, he develops simulated individuals, or agents, and then uses genetic algorithms to “evolve” emotional behaviors, first in one-to-one interactions and then in more complex social interactions.

They are focusing on retributive action as the emotional behavior associated with anger and flight as the emotional behavior associated with fear.

DeLancey’s approach using computer simulation will be able to take into account such complexities as how an individual’s display of emotions affects others in the group, what happens when an individual lies, and how individual and group behavior over time shapes future interactions and defines social standards.

“No one has used these technologies to look at how emotion evolves,” he said. “To my knowledge, nobody out there is doing this.”

Callan and the other student that DeLancey will bring on in January are key collaborators on the project, the professor said. “Undergraduate computer science students can do important work,” he said. “They’re really in the trenches doing the work, working with me, kicking around ideas. It really is collaborative.”

DeLancey is the author of the book “Passionate Engines: What Emotions Reveal About Mind and Artificial Intelligence,” published by Oxford University Press in 2002, and his work has been applied to financial problems on Wall Street. He joined Oswego’s philosophy faculty two years ago.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Calculating behavior — Dr. Craig DeLancey of SUNY Oswego’s philosophy department works with student John Callan on a project that uses computer simulations to model the strategic effects of emotion. DeLancey has received a federal grant to expand the project

(Posted: Sep 08, 2004)